November 11, 2010 10:14:00 AM
Lowndes County Supervisor Leroy Brooks and seven former supervisors have been ordered to pay $149,713.18 to an insurance company after illegally donating more than $85,000 to a nonprofit headed by Brooks.
The Board of Supervisors donated between $7,500 and $18,000 per year from 1993 to 2000 to the African-American Culture Organization, according to court records.
Because the AACO has an operating budget of less than $25,000 per year, it is not required to submit its financial records to the IRS.
However, according to Brooks, the organization now sponsors the annual Juneteenth celebration and several theater productions.
Brooks did not immediately return calls seeking comment about the judgment.
After a 2004 state audit showed the donations were illegal, United States Fidelity & Guaranty Company -- then the board''s insurance company -- paid the state''s claim on behalf of the former supervisors.
At the time, supervisors ordered the company not to pay the state, maintaining they had not acted illegally, according to Brooks, sparking the civil lawsuit by USF&G in 2007.
Former Supervisor Walt Willis said the AACO had matching funds, but county had not filed the proper paperwork to prove it.
"That was the only problem there -- the paperwork," he said. "It wasn''t anyone''s intention to do anything wrong."
In his final judgment given Oct. 22, Fifth District Circuit Judge C.E. Morgan III ordered the seven defendants to pay a total of $26,676.99 in attorneys'' fees and $882.37 in court costs to USF&G.
The fees and costs will be tacked onto his August 23 ruling for them to repay a total of $88,923.30 and another $33,230.52 in prejudgment interest.
According to the judgment, Brooks has to pay a total of $42,387.49; Mitchell Wiggins $25,017.67; Artis Neal $20,670.34; and Willis, Dwight Colson and Murray Anthony $17,369.83 each. Wiggins and former Supervisor J.L. Williams are both deceased.
Altogether, the six supervisors named in the judgment were ordered to repay $140,184.99.
The remaining $9,528.19 will be paid by Joe Brooks, who had already settled with USF&G prior to the judgment. He had been ordered to pay $12,286.10 earlier.
Besides Willis, none of the supervisors or USF&G attorney Emily M. Yancey were immediately available for comment.
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